Friday, September 10, 2004

FAA engaged in ?bureaucratic sabotage?

Angry airport manager condemns resistance to TLS

Express Staff Writer

The long-promised, long-anticipated and long-needed Transponder Landing System to reduce diverted and cancelled airline flights into Friedman Memorial Airport is the target of ?bureaucratic sabotage,? an angry airport manager Rick Baird charged Wednesday night.

He said he believes mid-level Federal Aviation Administration executives purposely are trying to kill the TLS at the Hailey airport as an air navigation technology in favor of a new, untested program, called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS).

The $1 million TLS facility financed by the FAA has been installed and tested at Friedman. But certification has been delayed because the FAA has yet to approve a 10-degree offset in landing approach. Instead of adhering to the standard 3-degree deviation from the TLS approach path, Friedman wants approval for 10 degrees deviation so pilots can veer farther from high terrain southeast and east of the airport.

The upshot of telephone conference calls in recent weeks between FAA personnel and Baird and staff members of Idaho?s congressional delegation is the TLS probably won?t be operational for this winter as hoped.

?It?s not going to happen this winter,? said a chagrined Friedman Memorial Airport Authority chair, Mary Ann Mix. By one estimate of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce, 30 percent of wintertime flights by Skywest and Horizon airlines are diverted or cancelled because of marginal weather.

The TLS provides pilots with altitude and heading on landing approach, allowing flights in reduced visibility and lower cloud ceilings. It has been in the works at Friedman since 1995, and is slated for operation at Moscow-Pullman airport in northern Idaho and Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, Wisc.

The only meager hope is that strong pressure from Idaho?s congressional members on FAA administrator Marion Blakey might force the agency to provide a hurry-up certification in time for the inclement seasonal weather that customarily hits the Wood River Valley.

Friedman Memorial Authority member Len Harlig said, ?Maybe we?re not talking to the right people,? suggesting that decisions of mid-level FAA officials can be countermanded by their ultimate boss, FAA administrator Blakey.

The board voted in unison to ask Idaho?s congressional delegation in Washington to seek an early meeting with the FAA administrator and underscore the urgent need of advance landing system technology to keep Friedman open. Chairman Mix also said that other cities in the area should be contacted to add their pressure on the FAA and the congressional delegation.

As a possible explanation for the FAA?s refusal to certify Friedman?s TLS equipment, manager Baird told the authority at its regular monthly meeting, is that the FAA is enamored with WAAS, an instrument landing aid pilots use by tuning their cockpit Global Positioning System (GPS) to satellites for information on altitude and heading.

But Baird said when he asked FAA officials during the phone conference if they could guarantee WAAS could be quickly installed to help alleviate Friedman?s interrupted wintertime flights, he was met with silence.

Baird said he ?let them (FAA personnel) have it with both barrels? when he was told that even the TLS at Friedman might not be certified for operation for three years, ?maybe twice that long.?

Friedman board member Martha Burke opined that ?the FAA is stonewalling until this airport is nonexistent.? A study is underway for building a new airport distant from the present Friedman, a project that could be completed in 10 years.

Added Burke sternly, ?We have safety issues now? that need a solution.

Board member Dr. Ron Fairfax, an aircraft owner, said the WAAS program ?will take a long time? to be developed, perfected and installed at airports. He also said airlines are not interested in the technology, and pointed out that the FAA invested some $100 million in another program, Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS), that it later abandoned as impractical.

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